What do you getwhen you take 13 strong-minded, innovative risk-takers who are eager to learn, 14 business-oriented service professionals willing to share, eight mentors happy to give guidance, and one over-zealous business instructor at a community college? The answer is the perfect storm for a successful eight-week Entrepreneurship Workshop.
In January of 2010, Central Community College of Hastings, NE launched its first entrepreneurial workshop series, "Become An Entrepreneur; Starting and Developing Your Small Business.” As the campus's Entrepreneurship Coordinator and also a Business Instructor, I designed a model for this workshop that included community and campus-wide promotion, session-specific curriculum and lessons, and a build-as-you-go business plan template. The program was enhanced by guest speakers, business mentors, and collaboration with other college programs.
Since this was the pilot of this model, I also put into place a measuring tool that allowed us to gather statistics on what worked and what didn't. Below is a breakdown of the specific steps taken to promote the workshop, the sessions that were offered and how they fit within the enrollment boundaries as well as a discussion of the opportunities, challenges, and rewards involved with this workshop.
Promotion of this event included the normal strategies listed below.
- Web site Ads
- Newspaper Advertising
- E-mail Broadcasts
- Ads on the Campus Information System
- Ads on the Public Access Channel
- Guest spots on the News Channel
- Press Releases
However, to promote this workshop and infuse the entrepreneurial message to other vocational programs, I put together an interactive presentation to "take out on the road.” I coordinated class visits with instructors to visit with students in technical-focused programs who may be interested in starting their own businesses. These programs included vocational disciplines such as machine tool, diesel technology, electrical and construction technology, graphic arts and information technology. I visited with over 500 students and shared information on entrepreneurship including the opportunity to enroll in the workshop. This brought awareness to the students as well as the other instructors, who also serve as the advisors to these students when they register for classes.
In the statistical analysis of the workshop we discovered that the participants learned about the workshop mostly through these presentations and their instructors and advisors.
Workshop Sessions and Enrollment
The workshop consisted of eight sessions. The topics of these sessions included:
- Develop an Idea into a Feasible Business
- Laying the Foundation to Your Small Business
- Funding a Business Venture and the Financials
- Marketing Strategies for the Small Business
- Tax and Legal Structures for Business
- Good Customer Service and Business Relationships
- Creating and Presenting Your Business Plan I & II
Students had the option of enrolling in specific sessions or the entire eight-week course. If the students took the entire course, they earned two college credits and they were provided all materials including a course binder, in which they compiled their weekly information packets as well as other handouts they received. Each session ran approximately four hours with about two 15-20 minute breaks. For each class, I taught a lesson on the topic, using a media presentation that covered the business basics needed on each topic. The presentation was a companion to the information packet. This packet included more in-depth information, business planning worksheets and a resource guide for each session topic. Each session had a review of the previous class as well as action plans to prepare for the upcoming class.
The first six sessions were also enhanced by the expertise of guest speakers who talked on the subject matter for the evening and gave their expert advice and shared their experiences. These guest speakers included successful entrepreneurs from the area, an attorney, an insurance agent, marketing professional, economic and community development agents, a rural assistance specialist, a SCORE representative, an accountant and the director of the college's foundation, who previously spent 30 years in the banking and lending industry.
Each class meeting ended with a work session for the students to start on the planning worksheets to develop that particular part of the business plan. Two or three days following the workshop session, all participants received an
e-mail that reviewed important items and shared any additional information. This e-mail also had a link in it to a survey that the students could access to rate that particular work session on items like materials, instruction, guest speakers and resources.
Participants were also given the opportunity to enroll in a QuickBooks course taught through Central Community College. Several of the students took advantage of this option and also earned an additional credit by doing so.
The model is the black and white. The students become the gray matter or, in this case, the color! I consider the interaction and chance to share and assist these students in their entrepreneurial endeavors a great opportunity.
Offering this workshop through a community college afforded the group the chance to collaborate with other vocational programs. In this specific class, the participants were looking for some brand identity and logo creations for their businesses. The graphic design students at the college were able to work this into their program by using the workshop participants as clients for their semester projects. This was an excellent opportunity with a win-win result for all involved, including the partnership between me and Carole Meyer, the Graphic Arts instructor at Central Community College.
The contribution from the community was also an identified opportunity to build on with this workshop. Having seasoned business owners and service providers speak to this group created the chance for budding entrepreneurs to network and make important connections that will benefit their businesses.
Having enough time each session to make it through the agenda was a challenge. Meeting the varying needs of all participants in a timely fashion would be the biggest challenge with this workshop. As the pilot of this program, some elements of the workshop were learn-as-you-go. It is clear that a more defined role for the instructor and a more clear expectation of the students could help this workshop. However, it is a balancing act. Entrepreneurs don't thrive with strict boundaries and they need a lot of support and encouragement. They are creative and need to be able to benefit from a learning environment that fosters innovation and promotes inventive problem-solving.
Potential small business creators need a great deal of information. The session involving the tax structures and legal information could easily be divided into two sessions. Intellectual property is an important topic to cover and needs enough attention. Electronic commerce is covered in the marketing session, but could really benefit from being presented in a new session that could also include the importance of viral marketing.
One challenge that eventually surfaced as a reward was getting the students comfortable talking about themselves and their businesses. Each session, sometimes two to three times per session, the participants would introduce themselves and their businesses to each other and guests to the workshop. The evolution that resulted was so important to the way the students saw themselves as entrepreneurs. In the beginning a student would hesitantly say, "I am Bob Smith, and I have an idea for a business that makes custom sleds…” By the end of the workshop the same student would eagerly say, "Hi everyone, I am Bob Smith, the proud owner of Smith Custom Sledding, a new business in town.” This was a true sign of growth.
Meeting entrepreneurs and being a part of business creation is a reward in itself. Hearing that this workshop was the catalyst to further jump start the creative efforts of the participants was incredibly rewarding. The participants were all at different stages in their businesses and all presented a variety of business ideas.
Two students were creating a partnership where they would offer chroming and customized motorcycle parts. Another woman in the workshop was inspired by her passion of quality nutrition for high-pedigree dogs and had developed an all-natural dog food, which she plans to produce. A local college physics professor with his Ph.D. took the course to launch his own line of professional loudspeakers that he had designed based on the science of sound. Another gentleman had already applied for the patent to his lawn debris receptacle, which he had started selling and was looking for guidance on how to take his business to the next level. The husband and wife team who thought their hobby was just a craft found out that it was in fact considered art and learned that they could market it as such.
The best reward is to actually know that this workshop served as a confidence builder and gentle nudge to the participants moving forward with plans to start a business. As one participant commented,"I can't adequately describe how valuable this workshop was to convincing me that my idea had value. I would highly recommend this class to anyone who is seriously interested in starting a business. The resources and information here will save light years of time and expense in mistakes by going it alone.”
The next workshop for Central Community College's Entrepreneurship Center in Hastings has been scheduled for Fall 2010. Based on the feedback from the participants, some adjustments have been made. The sessions have been extended to include 10 meetings as well as the opportunity for more one-on-one time between the students and instructor. If you are interested in more information on this workshop or would like to visit with me to see if this model would work for your college, please contact me: Lisa Tschauner, Central Community College, PO Box 1024, Hastings, NE 68902-1024, Phone: 402.460.2142 or email firstname.lastname@example.org